Time to chill at Bondi Beach
Contributed by Richard
Photography by Richard Vevers (Underwater Australia)
and George Evatt
in Sydney is like drinking beer, it can take a while to get used to but once
you get the taste for it, you're hooked for life. It can be cold, it can have
poor clarity, but you'll be hard pushed to find anywhere in the world with such
great diving a stones through from your office in the city.
Australia is renowned for its tropical diving: seeing Nemo on the Great Barrier
Reef, schools of sharks in the Coral Sea, manta rays and the majestic whale
shark on Ningaloo Reef., so it is not surprising that the diving in cooler waters
goes largely unnoticed. Especially diving in a major city, which is rarely a
priority for divers.Yet the temperate waters of Australia boast one of the most
diverse marine ecosystems in the world - an amazing underwater world that few
ever explore - Sydney is at its heart. There are over twice as many species
in the harbour within sight of its famous Harbour Bridge than in the entire
secret behind Sydney's marine life is its proximity to the continental shelf,
bringing with it nutrient rich water and a vast array of visitors including
several tropical species caught up in the East Australian Current coming down
from the Great Barrier Reef.
Bondi Beach epitomises the diving in Sydney - visited by millions of people
each year, it is arguably the world's most famous beach. A beautiful surfing
beach, within 15 minutes of the City centre, it is home to the oldest surf lifesaving
club in the world. However despite its high profile, only a handful of people
ever check out what lies beneath the waves.
Bondi Beach has become world famous as a surfing beach because of it's accessibility,
so why isn't its diving equally famous? It certainly has the marine life to
justify it. A typical example is the Weedy Seadragon - one of the world's
most amazing creatures. Growing up to 45cm, it is related to the seahorse, but
as its name suggests, it looks like a dragon, complete with blue stripes and
yellow spots. How can a dragon living on the world's most famous beach not be
famous itself? The fact is, even the majority of locals don't know it exists.
In virtually any other country, everyone would be aware of this beautiful creature,
but Australia is so spoilt with incredible wildlife, so it gets ignored.
Despite their bizarre appearance, Weedy Seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)
are actually pretty difficult to spot. There are only about 20 at Bondi Beach
and they blend in perfectly with the kelp - which seems completely ridiculous
after you spot one and then consider how brightly coloured they are.
if you don't get to see the Weedy Seadragon on a dive at Bondi there's no shortage
of other bizarre life to look at. The giant cuttlefish is a favourite. Its ability
to change shape and colour in an instant is impressive on its smaller cousins,
but when you are faced with a group of cuttlefish all over a metre in length,
imitating their surroundings as the swell takes them from sand to rock, the
image is mesmerizing.
The Wobbegong, a 3 metre carpet shark, aptly named for its ability to look
and act like a kitch 1970 carpet is another local favourite. It lies on the
bottom motionless until an unsuspecting diver swims too close and is shocked
to suddenly see the seafloor bust into action.
Other marine life seen regularly at Bondi Beach include piles of a dozen or
more Port Jackson sharks having their afternoon siesta (a shark that can't bite
you but can give you a nasty sting from its horm), large bull rays, fiddler
rays, octopus, schools of squid and the large sex-changing, bright blue groper
that follows you around like a puppy. Then there are the balls of stripped catfish
that you can swim through (if you dare - their poison never leaves your body
if stung), the large schools of salmon tuna and kingfish that form a perfect
barrel around divers, brightly coloured nudibranchs, big red stonefish... the
list goes on. They all live a few hundred metres from the 35,000 oblivious topless
sun-worshippers on this famous strip of sand.
Bondi is not even considered the best shore dive site in Sydney - there are
many other contenders: The more popular sites include Shelly Beach and Fairlight
in the northern beaches, Camp Cove and Gordon's Bay on the eastern harbour foreshores,
Bare Island - a small island on the northern foreshore of Botany Bay - and Shiprock,
in Port Hacking.
Manly, the other great surfing beach of Sydney, like Bondi is also typical
of Sydney's amazing marine life. Ten metres off the crowded harbour beach, in
3 metres of water, lives a colony of 200 seahorses on the man-made shark nets.
Tell anyone on the beach about them and they'll think you're crazy.
Island is a personal favourite - one of the most scenic shore dives. It has
many of the same species as Bondi but with a few stunning additions including
the red indian fish that looks exactly like a red indian chief and the elusive
blue devil fish that never ceases to amaze divers. They live in a surreal landscape
consisting of bright orange and pink sponge.
Although the shore diving is excellent sometimes it is great to get on one
of the dive boats in Sydney and get out to some of the other dive sites. Almost
all of the 30 odd dive facilities either own, or have on permanent charter,
a dive boat - capable of carrying anywhere between six to twelve divers. Whales
and dolphins are regular visitors
to Sydney and frequently appear alongside dive boats and even the occasional
giant sunfish makes a trip in close to shore.
One of the most popular boat dive sites is Magic Point - a fabulous dive that
starts off at a large amphitheatre with an overhang that goes back under the
cliff. This is where the endangered Grey Nurse Sharks cruise by. There are only
approximately 500 of these sharks left in Australia and you feel very privileged
to be able to get up close and personal to these harmless rare large sharks.
is the oldest settled city in Australia and its coastline and waterways are
littered with wrecks of every description; some the result of maritime misfortune
and others that have been purposely scuttled. In Sydney Harbour alone there
are more than twenty-five known wrecks and offshore there are an even greater
number. Although many of these vessels lie in water depths only accessible to
technical divers, others are in shallower waters just metres from shore.
One of the most popular is the Coolooli - a large wreck scuttled off Long Reef.
An old bucket dredge that now lies on her side on a sand bed in 48 metres. This
dive has something for everyone and begins at 36 metres. The wrecks superstructure
is intact and it is possible to penetrate various areas. For the more adventurous
- you can swim through the funnel and come out through a hole in its side.
Diving in Sydney surprises virtually everyone. Once you get used to the colder
water (16 to 24 degrees) and the lower visibility than the tropical diving up
north, you'll find the experience unique. The sheer diversity of life in the
temperate waters means that there are always new things to discover - in fact,
despite being in a major city, even in the harbour there are new species waiting
to be discovered and named.
Subject to the vagaries of the weather, diving conditions in Sydney can change
on a daily basis - particularly after high seas or heavy rains when the wave
action or storm-water run-off from the land may reduce the underwater visibility.
Although seldom less than 8-metres, the very best visibility and sea conditions
usually occur during the dry winter months (June - August) when the combined
effects of the prevailing offshore winds and the ôblue-waterö currents
produce visibility often exceeding 30-plus metres.
Water temperatures reach a high of about 24║ C. in summer, (February/March)
and drop to 16║ C. towards the end of winter (August/September) when more thermal
protection is required. For most people, however, a 5mm wet suit is adequate
for use throughout the year.
Most International carriers offer direct flights to Sydney's Kingsford Smith
Airport, just 6 kilometres from the City centre. Depending on the time of day
regular shuttle-bus services or metered-taxis will cover the distance in about
Temperate, with four seasons. Driest month - August: Wettest - February. Mainly
sunny throughout the year with cool, mild winters (June - August) and hot, humid
summers, (December - February). Average temperatures range from between 9 -
15░ C. in Winter, to 22 - 28░ C. in Summer.